Tree Essays

Coming Home to North America

by Ed
The opinions expressed below are my own and are not meant in anyway to represent the official position of the Raven Wood Grove. They are the result of my own personal journey. It is my sincere hope that others may find some of the ideas discussed here to be useful in their own path of discovery.

The Celts held the natural world sacred in many ways, as did most first peoples worldwide. The natural environment of much of post glacial Europe was heavily forested and it is important to understand that this natural environment formed the context that the Celtic world view evolved in. It is not surprising that given a deep day to day interaction with this landscape that Celtic peoples developed a complex spiritual relationship with both forests and the trees that comprised the dominant vegetation within them.

It is interesting to learn the relationships between specific Celtic groups and the trees that were part of their everyday world. I have always felt however that studying this relationship alone falls short of what is needed for individuals creating an earth centered spirituality here in North America and specifically in the Midwestern region. Our wooded communities are very different than those of Europe and other natural communities common here, such as tall grass prairie, were not present at all on the European continent.

What seems to be often overlooked by neo pagan practitioners, regardless of the spiritual path they have elected to follow, is the necessity of coming to know ones own local natural environment. There can be no doubt that the ancient Celts were intimately familiar with even the smallest nuances of European natural communities. The modern North American Druid, Wiccan or Shaman should be just as intimately familiar with the native communities of the region they are associated with. It is the land after all, that provides the ultimate source of the earth energy we use in our spirituality. To understand its unique texture, form and composition is crucial learning how to work effectively with it.

To begin our journey to the heart of forming this closer relationship with the land we are part of, I have chosen the "traditional" Irish Celtic trees of spiritual significance as a jumping off point. Many readers will no doubt be familiar with them from various sources. Since it is not likely that many of us will be encountering these trees here in northeastern Illinois, I have taken the liberty of "cross walking" them to the local native species that would have been found here before Euro/American settlement began in the 1840s.

In the majority of cases I have selected a local tree or shrub in the same genus as its old world counterpart. Where it is not possible to do so because the genus does not occur in our particular bio region, I have tried to select an ecological equivalent that occupies the same niche in similar North American natural communities as does it old world counterpart.

Sacred Celtic Trees and Woods

To the Celts and many other first peoples worldwide, certain trees held special significance as a fuel for heat, cooking, building materials, ornamental objects and weaponry. In addition to this however, many woods also provided a powerful spiritual presence. The specific trees varied between different cultures and geographic locations, but those believed to be "sacred" shared certain traits. Unusual size, beauty, the wide range of materials they provided, unique physical characteristics, or simply the power of the tree's spirit could grant it a central place in the folklore and mythology of a culture. Even our own modern culture finds that certain trees capture our imagination. The mighty oak, the mystical yew, the ancient redwoods and so many others are reminders of the power that trees have on our lives and the place they hold in our imagination.

Trees are living things, filled with the essence and energy of the Elementals and of Earth itself, possessing an aura of power reflective of their unique nature. The lore which surrounds a particular tree or wood often reflects the power older cultures sensed and drew from their presence.

Sacred Trees & Modern Calendar Correspondences
October 28-November 24 Reed (Ngetal)
November 25-December 22 Elder (Ruis)
December 24-January 20 Birch (Beth)
January 21-February 17 Rowan (Luis)
February 18-March 17 Ash (Nuin)
March 18-April 14 Alder (Fearn)
April 15-May 12 Willow (Saille)
May 13-June 9 Hawthorn (Huath)
June 10-July 7 Oak (Duir)
July 8-August 4 Holly (Tinne)
August 5-September 1 Hazel (Coll)
September 2- 29 Vine (Muin)
September 30-October 27 Ivy (Gort)
October 28-November 24 Reed (Ngetal)

October 28-November 24, Reed (Ngetal)
European Species:
Viburnum opulus (European high bush cranberry)
American Species: Viburnum trilobum (American high bush cranberry)
Habitat: In relic bogs, ravines along the Lake Michigan shoreline and very rich undisturbed woods. A difficult shrub to locate due to its rarity.

November 25-December 22, Elder (Ruis)
European Species: Sambucus nigra (European elder),
American Species: Sambucus canadensis (American elderberry)
Habitat: Found in areas with bright sun or mixed sun & shade. Common shrub along roadsides, in old fields and disturbed woods.

December 24-January 20, Birch (Beth)
European Species: Betula pendula (European silver birch), B. pubescens (downy birch)
American Species: Betula pumila (dwarf birch), B. nigra (river birch)
Habitat: Rare as a native tree in our area although commonly planted as an ornamental on streets and in yards. Search for naturally growing trees and shrubs in relic bogs, along the Lake Michigan shoreline in ravines, and along the floodplains of larger rivers.

January 21-February 17, Rowan (Luis)
European Species: Sorbus aucuparia (European Mountain Ash)
American Species: Sorbus americana (American Mountain Ash)
Habitat: Very rare as a native tree in our area but often planted for landscaping. Search for native trees in relic bogs and rich cool woods.

February 18-March 17, Ash (Nuin)
European Species: Fraxinus excelsior (common ash)
American Species: Fraxinus americana (white ash), F. nigra (black ash), F. pennslyvanica subintegerrima (green ash)
Habitat: Common in floodplain woods and often planted as a landscaping tree.

March 18-April 14, Alder (Fearn)
European Species: Alnus glutinosa (black alder)
American Species: Alnus rugosa (speckled alder)
Habitat: Occurring infrequently along streams in the northern and western portions of our area.

April 15-May 12, Willow (Saille)
European Species: Salix hibernica (Irish willow), S. alba (white willow)
American Species: Salix humilis (prairie willow), S. interior (sandbar willow), S. nigra (black willow)
Habitat: Black willow is the only tree sized willow in our region. Prairie and sandbar willow occur as shrubs. Some type of willow is common in almost every wet area.

May 13-June 9, Hawthorn (Huath)
European Species: Crataegus monogyna (whitethorn)
American Species: Crataegus mollis (downy haw), C. punctata (dotted haw), C. coccineum (red haw)
Habitat: Common along the edges of woods and in old fence lines.

June 10-July 7, Oak (Duir)
European Species: Quercus robur (English oak), Q. petrea (sessile oak)
American Species: Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak), Q. alba (white oak), Q. rubra (red oak), Q. velutina (black oak), Q. coccineum (scarlet oak)
Habitat: The major mature tree of our native woodlands. Bur and white are the commonest, occurring on dry slopes and hilly terrain. Black, red and scarlet are also abundant across the region.

July 8-August 4, Holly (Tinne)
European Species: Ilex aquifolium (European holly)
American Species: Ilex verticillata (winterberry holly)
Habitat: Extremely uncommon and restricted to the few remaining acid bogs in our region.

August 5-September 1, Hazel (Coll)
European Species: Corylus avellana (hazel)
American Species: Corylus americana ( American hazelnut)
Habitat: Common in old fence lines with adequate sunlight and rich undisturbed woods dominated by oaks.

September 2- 29, Vine (Muin)
European Species: Vitis vinifera (European wild grape)
American Species: Vitis riparia (riverbank grape)
Habitat: Waste areas, old fields, fence lines. A very common species.

September 30-October 27, Ivy (Gort)
European Species: Hedera helix (ivy)
American Species: Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)
Habitat: Common in fence lines, disturbed woods and brushy areas.

Blackthorn (Straif)
European Species: Prunus spinosa (blackthorn)
American Species: Prunus americana (wild plum)
Habitat: Roadsides and the edges of woods growing in thickets. Fairly common.

Yew (Idho)
European Species: Taxus baccata (Irish yew)
American Species: Taxus canadensis (Canadian yew)
Habitat: Very rare and likely to still persist only in the few remaining acid bog remnants left in the region.

Apple (Quert)
European Species: Malus sylvestris (wild crab apple)
American Species: Malus ioensis (Iowa crab)
Habitat: Common along the edges of woods and in old fence lines.

Working With Trees

To work with trees and shrubs is not to rush. Trees are ancient life forms and measure time in a manner very different than we do. A single aged tree may have seen several human generations pass in its own life time. A genus or group of one specific type of tree is even more venerable, often having watched over the rise and fall of other forms of life across the long march of the eons. Gingko and dawn redwood grew in the shadows of the dinosaurs. Honey locust and papaw knew the touch of mastodons and giant ground sloth harvesting its ripened fruits.

As important as your problem or need may seem at the time in the long watch of the trees it may not seem nearly as urgent.

It is axiomatic that one should always be respectful of the natural world and the life that is reflected in every miracle nature presents to us whenever invoking energies. This is particularly important when working with trees. If you are impatient, hurried or fixated on the outcome of the work in mind it may be better to seek a different form of Earth energy to partner with. The bond between human and tree is built slowly, across the full spectrum of the seasons, and with patient disciplined attention to detail.

Trees like people are individualistic. Every bur oak or wild plum possesses a unique personality. You may well find that you can bond and identify with one individual of a species and not with another.
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